An In-depth Look at Windows 7
A few days ago, I shared my initial thoughts on Windows 7. After spending more time with the operating system, here’s an update.
I agree that Microsoft ran a little faster than they knew how with Vista, which hurt them a lot. Windows 7 better be good, or people will either stick with XP until 2013, or switch to Linux, Mac, or the next big OS (will there be one soon?)
In this review, I’ll explore some of the new features Windows 7 brings and whether I like them or not. I’ll take a look at updated core applications, desktop and window management, home networking, and built-in troubleshooting. Then you decide… is Windows 7 a worthwhile upgrade?
What Will Windows 7 Bring?
Let’s take a look at the new features in Windows 7 and see how they fair up. Before I begin, I must avoid repetition by stating the Windows 7 UI is much tidier and a lot less cluttered, which is favorable for my opinion. I still wish Windows apps would have ‘standard’ and ‘advanced’ modes, so basic users could navigate more easily, while more experienced users could use the programs to their full potential, but I’ll overlook that for now.
Updated Core Applications
A lot of the programs that skipped an upgrade (or didn’t change enough to count) in Windows Vista have been overhauled in Windows 7. Programs like Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer are always updated to the latest version with each iteration of Windows, but programs like Paint, Calculator, and Wordpad usually remain the same. While the three mentioned programs are simple, their UI and functionality can always be improved–which is the case in 7, so let’s take a look.
I personally use Paint a lot and usually use keyboard shortcuts; thus, avoiding the menus. However, with Paint’s new look and ribbon menu system, I’m sure I’ll use the mouse a lot more, which is something you can’t really aboid in graphics software anyway. As you can see in Figure 1, paint now comes with a set of brushes, which are completely useless for me, but I’m sure will come in handy for many smaller-scale graphic projects.
Figure 2 reveals the shape option: yes, you can even add fun shapes in Paint now, which will make annotating screenshots, for example, a lot easier.
Finally, in Figure 3, you can see the Full Screen option, which allows you to view your masterpiece without any distractions–fantastic. Overall, I like the new version of paint–a lot–and will continue to be a regular user of the software.
In a similar fashion to Paint, Wordpad is now equipped with the ribbon UI. I feel the ribbon UI is just as helpful in Wordpad and by now, many users are familiar (and in favor) with this interface. I’m pretty sure there are no new features in Windows 7’s Wordpad, but it is easier to use and just as useful to me. The home tab seems a little redundant in the ribbon UI, because it’s the only tab. Microsoft probably left this in for one of two reasons: 1) consistency 2) room for expansion in future releases. See Figure 4, which highlights the Home tab as the only tab.
The most impressive update to a core application, by far, is the update to the Calculator. The calculator now comes with a bunch of handy tools like a mortgage calculator, a gas mileage calculator (figure 5), a statistics mode, and even a programmer mode. The new version of the calculator also comes with a history, which means you no longer have to keep 3 or more instances of the calculator open at once to retain the results of your calculations. Previously I reviewed FreeCalc, which pretty much becomes redundant when Windows 7 is released.
Enjoy the array of screenshots of the new calculator:
Desktop and Window Management
Windows Vista did nothing in the realm of Window management. Windows 7 puts Vista to shame and has some really cool features including Snap to Docking, Aero Shake, an Updated Taskbar, Jump Lists, and Gadgets wherever you want them. I already find myself attempting to use these features when I boot back into Vista or Windows Server 2008, which is a good sign that they are really useful.
Snap to Docking
By far my favorite new window management feature is snap to docking. Basically, if you want to maximize a window, drag it to the top of the screen (figure 6); if you want to restore the window, drag it from the top of the screen; if you want to compare two windows side by side, drag each one to the side of the screen (figre 7)–it’s as simple as that and I absolutely love it. With screen resolutions always increasing, the ability to easily compare two windows side by side will become an invaluable feature.
When I first came across this feature, I shrugged it off as useless; however, I’ve already tried to use it twice since I booted back into Windows Server 2008. Aero shake is simple and provides a great way to focus on just one application. Grab the Title Bar, shake the mouse, and all the other applications disappear leaving you free to focus. I tried to capture this effect in an image as shown in Figure 8, so hopefully you get the feel of all the other windows disappearing.
I’m not converted to the new taskbar in Windows 7 yet, and I will likely use the classic style, which you can achieve quite easily (figure 9.) The one thing I really like about the new taskbar is the ability to switch the order of the windows (figure 10), which is useful when you are trying to prioritize or group tasks. This functionality is part of Firefox, so I have found myself trying to switch windows in Vista, which of course doesn’t work–without extra software.
I mentioned the jump lists in my inital thoughts article because I immediately liked them. However, I’ve found that I never use them–hopefully I can remember they’re there and utilize them. Jump Lists (figure 11) a smart lists of links specific to each application, such as a history of pages visited (IE), opened files (word), favorites (IE), and more. You can get to all these features in earlier versions of Windows, but now it’s much easier.
Whenever you open a program, an up arrow becomes available next to the program icon; click the list and save time.
Gadgets — Anywhere
I’ve never used gadgets with Vista. As soon as I first installed Vista, I disabled the sidebar, and after making an image, I never saw it again. Gadgets really don’t attract me. Vista appears to have gadgets anywhere (shows you how familiar I am with them)–thanks Christopher. but Microsoft have included the ability to move gadgets anywhere you like on the desktop. I still don’t like them and I wont use them, but this seems like an improvement to me. See figure 12 for my desktop gadget array.
I only have access to one copy of Windows 7, so I couldn’t test home networking (Windows to Windows 7) out fully, but let me give you a sneak preview–home networking in Windows 7 looks good. Networking has always been a pain in Windows, so I really hope Microsoft get it right this time… or in other words I hope Microsoft help us stop getting it wrong!
When you save a network as a home network, Windows pops up a dialog box (figure 12), which lets you decide what you want to share at home. Connect a second Windows 7 pc to the same network, enter the key given to you by the first machine (figure 13) and you have instant secure filesharing. I’ll write more about this as I get to test it futher. I am a strong adovcate for home networking and believe each household with two or more supported devices (desktops, laptops, media extenders, bluetooth-enabled devices etc.) should utilize home networking.
Built in Troubleshooting
A computer that is self healing would put programmers like me out of a job. Imagine a computer that self diagnoses it issues, fixes them, and gets along its way. There is nothing I know of that can do this; a car can highlight problems and fix some of them temporarily (run-flat tires), and we can certainly repair ourselves if we get sick, but nothing can fully maintain itself forever… I think. Windows 7 is no exception, but the built in troubleshooting feature (figure 14) is fantastic.
The new message center (figure 15) highlights any issues such as anti-virus deficiencies, an unset windows update configuration etc. so you stay on top of any vulnerabilities that can otherwise be avoided.
Below is a collection of screens that show the troubleshooting process including identifying maintenance and performance issues.
Program Compatibility Troubleshooter
The program compatibility troubleshooter (figure 16) asks you a series of questions to help you get a piece of incompatible software working as is much more streamlined than in Vista (Christopher thanks for pointing out its inclusion in Vista.) Simply select the software that is giving you issues, list the problems associated with the software, select the operating system it does work with, run the test, and if the software works, save the settings. I spent a LONG time trying to find software that isn’t compatible and found everything works; thus, the screenshots below show me “fixing” 7zip. We’ll just assume this feature works and that it will help us in the future!
For now, I’m happy that functionality like this will be included with Windows 7.
I know I said at the beginning I’d share the things I like and dislike with the current build of Windows 7 (6801), but this review got so long that I decided not to include many of the things I dislike. For a short list of some of the things I dislike, read my initial thoughts.
I really don’t want to make the decision for you, and this early, it’s hard to tell. However, with all these features and more on the horizon (more about that soon), I can safely say I will be making the jump to Windows 7, one release at a time.